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District: Don't renew four city charters

The Philadelphia School District on Thursday recommended that four charter schools with low test scores be shut down or taken over by others.

The Philadelphia School District on Thursday recommended that four charter schools with low test scores be shut down or taken over by others.

But the changes would not be immediate. They require hearings, followed by votes by the School Reform Commission.

Still, the recommendations by the district's charter school office are stark, and involve two powerful players in the city's charter world: Kenny Gamble's Universal Cos. and Aspira of Pennsylvania, which focuses on Latino youth. Universal operates seven charters in the city while Aspira has four.

The district's charter office is urging the SRC not to renew the operating agreements of Universal's Vare Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter and its Audenried Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter, both in South Philadelphia, and Aspira's John B. Stetson Charter School in Kensington and Olney Charter High School in Olney.

"Obviously we are disappointed and disagree with those recommendations," Universal said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

The nonprofit called on the SRC and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. "to objectively review those recommendations and the education programs and student progress taking place at Vare and Audenried, the only career technical education charter high school in Pennsylvania."

Fred Ramirez, board chairman of Stetson and Olney, said students at both schools "have shown significant academic progress." He said Aspira had been in discussions with the district about its proposed recommendations.

All four targeted charters were once-troubled district schools that the SRC turned over to Universal and Aspira in 2010 and 2011 to convert under the district's Renaissance program.

The operators were expected to achieve dramatic academic improvements during their five-year operating agreements.

DawnLynne Kacer, executive director of the charter office, said that did not happen, and as a result, the schools did not meet requirements to have their operating agreements renewed.

She said that because the schools had been run by the district before they were converted to charters, options for each include the district resuming control; transferring management to another charter operator; or contracting with another entity to run it.

The SRC is scheduled to vote on the recommendations April 28. If it adopts them, Kacer said, the district plans to begin hearings this summer.

The SRC takes a final vote after the hearings. State law permits schools to appeal decisions to a board in Harrisburg.

The nonrenewal recommendations were contained in reports for nine schools the charter office evaluated. Staff recommended granting renewals for the other five.

The reports, which were posted Thursday, said that during Universal's first year managing Audenreid, math proficiency dropped 12 percentage points to 10 percent and reading decreased by 14 percentage points to 16 percent.

The office said its examination of the schools' operations also found concerns including financial health problems at Vare; a decline in graduation rates at Olney; and financial management issues at Stetson. The office also expressed concern over financial transfers among Aspira's related entities.

The charters recommended for renewal are: Harambee Institute of Technology; Mastery Charter School-Clymer Elementary; Mastery Charter-Simon Gratz; Mastery Charter School- Shoemaker; and YouthBuild.